Ann Maher Apr. 2, 2015, 9:44am

U.S. Magistrate Stephen Williams has ordered plaintiffs in a multi-billion dollar case against State Farm to produce communications that could either bolster or undermine their claims.

Following a hearing March 26, Williams directed plaintiffs to supply documents they sought to keep confidential to State Farm by April 9.

State Farm had challenged plaintiffs' assertion of privilege, arguing that the documents - some of which relate to their investigator Douglas Wojcieszak and Tactical Investigations - contain proof that a statute of limitations ran out before plaintiffs filed their racketeering suit.

Plaintiffs Mark Hale and Todd Shadle claim State Farm, William Shepherd of State Farm, and Ed Murnane of the Illinois Civil Justice League fraudulently conspired to secure the election of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier in 2004.

They allege that Murnane secretly recruited Karmeier and secretly ran his campaign.

Plaintiffs seek to recover a $1 billion judgment in Avery v. State Farm that the Supreme Court reversed in 2005.

With interest and triple damages, their claim approaches $8 billion.

State Farm served a subpoena on Wojcieszak for documents last April, and lead plaintiff attorney Robert Clifford and his team of attorneys asserted privilege to withhold many of the documents.

In his order, Williams wrote, "To the extent that any of those documents demonstrate when Plaintiffs’ investigators first learned of the material facts which form the basis of this defense and when the investigator first communicated those facts to counsel, those documents must be produced. The Court finds the defendants have a substantial need for this information which cannot be obtained by any other means."

Williams also noted that one of plaintiffs' basis for equitable tolling - a principle that allows an expired claim to go forward because the plaintiff did not discover the injury until after the expiration of the statute of limitations period - revolves around when plaintiffs and their investigator learned that Shepherd was involved with the ICJL and was a member of its executive committee.

"Thus, those documents which demonstrate when Plaintiffs first learned of Shepherd’s role with the ICJL or when their investigator learned of his role should be produced," Williams wrote.

On Sept. 9, 2011, Clifford and his team petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to vacate the 2005 mandate in favor of State Farm, and the Court denied the petition on Nov. 17, 2011.

Clifford's team sued State Farm, Shepherd and Murnane in federal court at East St. Louis on May 29, 2012, alleging violation of racketeering law.

In his order, Williams also directed both sides to comply with various discovery requests.

Williams handles pre-trial discovery. The case is presided over by District Judge David Herndon, who on Feb. 26, allowed plaintiffs to proceed in deposing Karmeier.

A discovery dispute conference is scheduled at 2 p.m. on April 28.

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